The memory and defense of queer artists: an interview with Durk Dehner, companion of Tom of Finland

6th May 2022, 5:39 pm


A male penis cut out and grabbed by a packet of red marlboros describes better than my words how necessary it was for those generations of artists to appropriate the languages ​​and icons of mass communication.


AllTogether is in the Jewish ghetto of Venice, one step away from the fondamenta dei Ormesini so loved by young locals, who arrive here with a small boat to drink to the sound of cicchetti. In the spaces of Studio Cannaregio – at Calle de la Conterie #1345 -, supported by Diesel, the exhibition is open until 23rd June , and is divided into several exhibition rooms: paintings, illustrations, photographs, sketches, sculptures of at least three generations of artists, whose queerness overflows with eroticism and provocation.

The muscular figures of Tom of Finland carry around packs of overflowing genitals, when not in the wind: and then fellatio, buttocks, penetrations, sexual submissions, masturbation, splashes of triumphal enjoyment and uninhibited arrogance. But also delicate moments of affection and purity.

Together with Tom’s works, AllTogether brings to Venice – and from 8th May to Paris at Rue Méhul #9 in The Community Center which has also curated this project to enhance part of the collection of the Tom of Finland Foundation – works by artists who already I have long known and appreciated (the illustrator Silvia Prada, the photographer Slava Mogutin), but also of queer artists unknown to me.


GIO BLACK PETER Untitled, 2019


And it is precisely the presence of otherwise forgotten artists – with all due respect for the well-known works of Tom of Finland – gives the spectator of the exhibition an unexpected thrill. Thanks to the work of Tom and his partner Durk Dehner, the Tom of Finland Foundation has long taken care of the works and consequent rights of those queer talents who in the past decades, in silence – and in the perspective of being cut off from the bigoted mainstream and bacchettone – have undermined the conformism of our Western societies, when queerness was far from being perceived as an opportunity for communication for consumer brands.

I borrow from an artist in the exhibition a male penis cut out and grabbed from a packet of red marlboros: it describes better than my words how necessary it was for those generations of artists to appropriate the languages ​​and icons of mass communication and introject them into an expressive queer statement , at the time desecrating, often considered subversive, sometimes branded as forbidden, often completely censored.


SAL SALANDRA Deep Woods, 2021


A few nights ago in Venice I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the exhibition, and I saw that half-mad genius of Diesel’s patron, Renzo Rosso , wandering among the works and lingering in chatter, dedicated to dealing with journalists, creatives and viveur rushed to the event. For less than six months, the new creative director of Diesel has been Glenn Martens, former inventor of Y / Project, and it was he who wanted this exhibition. Glenn feels at home among the works of these figurative artists who since the 1950s have given voice, stroke, light and colors to their libertarian desire. And on the other hand, Martens fashion collections tell well how much he is the son of that pop-culture that certain queer artists have far anticipated compared to cyclone Warhol.

Artists that history would have buried in oblivion, in this era in which speed is now a keystone with which every merit – and every copyright – is sacrificed on the altar of mass communication.


Durk Dehner


I talked about it with Durk Dehner, who of Tom of Finland was not only a companion, but a partner in crime in transforming the works of Tom – and later of thousands of other artists – into works protected by copyright, by means of of the  Tom of Finland Foundation.

AllTogether is a bit of an overview of past and present artists that we have in our permanent collection,” Durk tells me.

Durk, how large is the collection?

We have literally thousands of works and tens of thousands of even ephemeral, apparently insignificant objects, which come from the many tribes of which the LGBTQI + community was and is composed, and which document an artistic and cultural heritage that is now available to contemporary artists who want to explore their own erotic artistic expression, and create new works, which in turn can enter our collection.

Today it is even more difficult to preserve copyright. There are new technologies, I think of NFTs, but many digital artists will not be protected at all like the artists of the Tom of Finland Foundation are: it seems to me a disaster for these new digital artists.

Certainly the digital age poses new challenges for artists, however they need to be educated about their property rights and how to protect their works online from being used by others for commercial purposes. For example, a suggestion is to always incorporate your name and logo on the works. And then monitor the counterfeiting of works for commercial purposes. And that’s not easy, because there is a fine line between fans sharing images and misuse. Artists still own the copyrights to their works and therefore own those rights and it is important for them to protect them. It is not an easy job, but there are agencies that can take care of the legal management, of the pricing for the use of the works, and this can be not only a help,

What did you and Tom have in mind when you founded the Tom of Finland Foundation?

Initially we simply wanted to build a shelter, to ensure that his work was appreciated by future generations and that it was not forgotten. Which we are doing very successfully. Then we gradually understood that we had to make sure that this large family of artists who continued to accept to be part of our collection was shown to an ever wider audience, all over the world. And all of this is happening and Tom would be delighted to see it, even if it took more than 30 years to really come to fruition.

It’s a wonderful story and this exhibition, along with the one in Paris, is something so tangible that it makes me shiver. In short: mission achieved?

Our mission continues: to protect, preserve and promote the erotic arts. We have always known that if mass culture can access beauty, and if it does so by observing what we all really are, then this world can be a better, more tolerant place.

If you had a group of LGBTQIA + teenagers in front of you today, what would you tell them to invite them to the TOM House in Los Angeles or the AllTogether exhibition in Venice or Paris?

I feel like encouraging all LGBTQIA + people to be curious about past and present culture, to take care of today’s artists, support them and their works and do what it takes to find their way. Let me tell you that buying the Tom Of Finland Foundation catalog is also a good idea, or better still come to the TOM House in Los Angeles. I realize that all of this takes some money, but it all starts with a dream. There are few places in the world that celebrate and embody the cultural heritage of queer art and we are one of them.

Is there a memory theme for the LGBTQIA + community around the world, do we have a short history and is it already getting lost?

We are a gift to society, a gift that has recently begun to be realized in a wider context. It is important to know what came before us, culturally and historically. It enriches life today and we hope it will, with the recognition and acquisition of a certain power within our societies, stop the regression of our rights and fuel the celebration of who we are as the people of the world.









About the Exhibition Artists Venice Paris Catalogue Press About the Exhibition On the occasion of Tom of Finland’s birthday (8th May), Tom of Finland Foundation and The Community have curated a group exhibition, supported by Diesel, presenting Tom of Finland Foundation’s permanent collection. AllTogether explores the erotic art collection consisting of thousands of artworks, spanning… View Article
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Published: 6th May 2022

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